One of the other nice things about living in Prague is its proximity to lots of other wonderful places, like Berlin. This whole “being in another country in one quick train ride” thing is pretty incredible.
I put off going to Berlin for over 9 months for no apparent reason (ok, time and money): despite everyone and their uncle telling me to go, I couldn’t quite justify it, somehow. Once the P and I finally got there this past spring, however, it was like my whole world made sense again. I felt more energized and inspired and excited than I’d felt in quite a while.
Much as I enjoy Prague, I’ve come to the fundamental conclusion that there’s not much magnetism here for me, creatively speaking. It’s not that Prague is inherently bad for this: hell, there are hordes of creatives here who find it utterly inspiring. It’s just not working for me. (Yet.) Over the past year, I’ve had crisis after crisis about why I can’t make things here, and it just seems to come down to an energy mismatch. I don’t blame Prague, but I also don’t blame myself (anymore) for not feeling energized creatively here, despite the ample time and space I’ve had here to Make Important Things.
At first, I just thought I was a failure, and something must be deeply wrong with me, for months. I didn’t realize that maybe it wasn’t quite as simple/harsh as this until I got out, and started spending more time elsewhere where I was energized and inspired. Certainly the residency in Italy was great: gorgeous surroundings, great company, a directive to make things. A little conservative, to be sure (Italy, not the residency), but creative and vibrant, indubitably. But then I got back from Italy, and fell apart all over again in Prague. No creative mojo, no nothing. Enter: Berlin.
I’ll try not to rhapsodize about the same things that everyone likes about Berlin: mostly, I’ll just say that it’s a deep feeling of recognition. I feel more myself when I’m there than anywhere else I’ve been in Europe. Which is kind of a strange, quasi-narcissistic reason to like a place, actually, but lemme tell you, when you’ve been a fish out of water for an extended period of time, it feels unbelievably great to be able to swim again.
I was rambling on and on to some folks here about how great Berlin is recently, when I saw a familiar, pained expression come across my German friend’s face. She said wistfully and diplomatically, “Everyone loves Berlin.” In that dot-dot-dot way which made me wonder. I kept thinking about that moment, because I recognized in it a similar (if far grouchier) sentiment I express whenever someone is going on and on about how cool New York is. It’s not that New York isn’t cool. I just get super-tired of hearing people ramble on about how great it is, ad nauseam, when it’s not the only great city in the US.
But I have to concede that the things that to me are genuinely appealing about places like Berlin (or New York, I guess) are also the same things I love about the urban Bay Area, and certainly other cities, as well: Diversity. A kind of no-nonsense cosmopolitanism. Insane creative energy. Feminist/ queer/ people of color with recognized strength and voice. Anarchic decadence. World-class cultural institutions. An mouth-watering variety of ethnic food options. Dirty old vintage stuff for sale. Freak flags flying proudly. An insistent, energetic hum in the air.
Like attracts like, so I suppose it’s no big shocker that I’m attracted to the things that feel familiar to me, being such a product of Bay Area culture, myself. What’s so thrilling about Berlin, however, is seeing these things as unfamiliar variations, with completely different historical and political underpinnings. And so, after many months of feeling a constant, quiet isolation in Prague, I’ve loved that I feel like I’m able to relax, unfold and expand myself when I’m in Berlin. I get bigger. My energy gets bigger. I want to feel, do, make things again. It’s that good.
After that initial spring revelation, I made 2 more Berlin trips over the summer with visiting friends, and each trip only reinforced its spell over me.
I’m going back up in a couple of weeks, as a bunch of my Manila friends are going to be there for a show. It doesn’t take much of an arm-twist to get me there, but that’s about as once-in-a-blue-moon, damn-fine a reason as any.